Colorado, Utah, Arizona and New Mexico. The four corners states are very likely my four favorite states in the USA. Each of them have mountains, deserts and extremely unique landscapes that you have to see to believe. Many of my favorite hikes in these states were hikes that I did on “off days” between the big, well-known hikes of the areas.
One extra shout-out to New Mexico, because it is so underrated, but so awesome! Before going to New Mexico, I only knew of one person that I could ask for what-to-dos there, whereas nearly all of my close friends have seen the other three states on this list. New Mexico left me absolutely awestruck, and the fact that I had almost everything to myself was unbelievable.
So here we go! This list is in no particular order of greatness.
Top Ten Must-Do in the Four-Corner States
1. Climb Long’s Peak, Colorado– well on the beaten path, but such an amazing hike, Long’s Peak is not for the faint of heart. Alongside amazing views comes some of the highest elevation in the U.S., massive boulder fields that take hours to scramble through and single-person-sized platforms with sheer drops into the abyss. Add on the challenge of navigating the two-way foot traffic and you’ve got yourself an adrenaline rush! But the hike is amazing. You’ll want to hit the trail around 2am and therefore be starting with a headlamp, which already makes you feel like a badass. After hours of dreary sleep-walking and sucking thin air, if you time it just right, you’ll ascend above the tree line just in time to see an unmatched sunrise that will slowly reveal the unique face of Long’s. Long’s Peak became a rite of passage in my family after my uncle took my dad and other uncle up there years ago. Since then, I got snowed out of climbing it once and then finally satisfied my hunger for it right before my sophomore year of college with my dad. Standing atop Long’s Peak with him will always be one of my favorite memories.
[ngg src=”galleries” ids=”2″ display=”basic_thumbnail” number_of_columns=”3″]2. Mountain Biking the Dragon’s Back, New Mexico– After a few years of building up my confidence in mountain biking, I threw my bike on the roof rack and headed to New Mexico, where I was confronted with a terrifying challenge; the Dragon’s Back. After a long ascent to the top of the ridge, get ready for a fast straightaway. This is probably the longest time I’ve ever spent riding in a straight line. So what’s fun about it? The trail is super fast, throws lots of jumps and drops at you, and oh yeah, it’s all happening along the top of a razor-edge ridge. The views are great and the rush is greater! The massive drops on either side would not be forgiving though, so only ride here if you are a serious MTBer!
3. Buckskin Gulch to Wire Pass Trail, Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument, Utah– Part of the amazing backcountry area that the Dump administration sold off to mining in classic MAGA fashion, this trail is part of a National Monument area that beckons for exploration. It is not overly trodden like most parks in this area, yet it is as amazing as any park in the US. Taking the Buckskin Gulch trailhead all the way to Wire Pass was not at all part of our plan when we went. In fact, we thought it was a bad idea. We blew out a tire trying to get the rental car to Wire Pass, where we planned to hike around a slot canyon for a couple miles and then turn around. Instead, we wound up on Buckskin Gulch and promised ourselves that we would turn around after one mile since we were low low low on water. Instead, we turned one corner. And it was amazing. And so was the next corner. And the next. And then eventually we wound up in the slot canyon that we hoped to get to and hiked the whole thing backwards to the Wire Pass trailhead, where we hitchhiked back to our sad little econo rental car. It’s hard to describe this trail in words. You have to see all of its weird and exciting surprises to believe it.
4. Backpack in Black Canyon of the Gunnison– this is one of those things that is really friggin’ hard when you do it, but you look back on it fondly for how hard you pushed and persevered. The hike down into the canyon is extremely steep. At points there are long cables that you must hold on to as you descend. But if you can make it to the bottom, you’ll be rewarded by a very unique view of the Gunnison River and an extremely peaceful campsite.
5. Drive route 50 from Pueblo to Montrose, Colorado– this is such a beautiful and varying drive. The scenery goes from desert to snow capped mountains to Aspen trees to beautiful lakes, rivers and canyons. Paise often to take in the views and pay attention to the changing speed limits. I got my only speeding ticket here!
6. Explore the wilderness of Valles Caldera National Preserve– Another one you probably haven’t heard of, I drove through it on my way out of Santa Fe (quite possibly my favorite Western town). I planned to blow right by this nature preserve, but instead wound up stopping so much to take photos and check out random, unmarked trails that I had to completely skip Albuquerque during my New Mexico trip. Valles means valleys, and that’s mostly what the park is. That may not sound that interesting, but these valleys are so vast and open that they provide some really incredible views. I was there when a light dusting of snow was coating everything and it made the vistas absolutely magical. The preserve also has a few really beautiful hot springs to soak it up in and some great trails along gorgeous winding rivers.
7. Hike into the Grand Canyon to Plateau Point and back up– You definitely need to be in good shape to do this one, but it is so worth it! At a little over 12 miles, this trail doesn’t sound too bad until you take into account the massive elevation change required to hike in and out of the Grand Canyon. But once you get to the bottom, you’ll be blown away at how green and lush it actually is down there. The view of the Colorado River and the expansive canyon from Plateau Point is the icing on the cake.
8. Spend a week hanging around Moab, Utah– When I first went “out west” as a Midwesterner, I expected to be within walking distance to amazing trails, mountains and rivers at all times. Little did I know, things are really spread out! Unless you’re in Moab! Moab is graced with incredible national parks like Arches and Canyonlands, awesome BLM lands with great, cheap or free camping and natural features, some of the best MTB trails in the world, refreshing and beautiful swimming holes and some ridiculously good rock climbing. All this within a very quick drive. Moab is an outdoorsy person’s absolute paradise.
9. Camp under the remote desert stars during a new moon– Check the moon cycle for the next new moon, grab your favorite six pack, head to a desert area of any one of these states, drive as far down a forest service road as you can, set up camp and stay up late. See how many constellations you can spot as the shooting stars rain down over you and feel like a kid again!
10. Arizona hot springs– This. Trail. The rocks are cool, the lake is beautiful and the hot springs are just what you need after a your action-packed itinerary is coming to an end. We spent a week rock climbing and people watching in and around Vegas, and this unplanned hike may have been the highlight for me.
Here’s a great video of that whole trip*
*Warning: this video futures a bunch of crazy college kids!
The top three photos under #8 Moab were shot by my extremely talented close friend Jake Anderson. Check out his killer travel photos here.